Bennett rules 'might have saved' Sage
NICOLA BRENNAN-TUPARA AND KATE CHAPMAN
Hamilton toddler Hail-Sage McClutchie might still be alive today if new measures to reduce New Zealand's appalling rate of child abuse had been implemented sooner, Social Development Minister Paula Bennett says.
Mrs Bennett said 22-month-old Sage was at the forefront of her mind as she developed the White Paper for Vulnerable Children.
"If we'd had a place where all the pieces of the little puzzle of her life, where other people were intervening, were all in one place, then I think the intervention would have been different."
Sage died in September 2009 after her mother and stepfather failed to get her medical attention after a series of falls.
But at an inquest into her death in February this year, coroner Peter Ryan said failures by Child, Youth and Family also contributed.
It was revealed shortly after Sage died that CYF did not know the toddler existed until her death, despite removing two of her siblings before her birth.
"Because Sage's mother had previous children removed, [in the new system] she would have been flagged as a child of interest and her wellbeing would have been put at a number one priority," Mrs Bennett said.
"So I do think a whole lot of the initiatives in the paper [might] have seen a different outcome for [Sage]."
WHITE PAPER ON VULNERABLE CHILDREN HAS SUPPORT, CRITICS
The Government's plan for vulnerable children does not go far enough and some kids could still fall through the cracks, critics and supporters say.
Jigsaw chief executive Sally Christie said it was crucial that vulnerable children identified in the White Paper received help.
"How do we also look after all those other children who aren't in that group so they don't go into it?"That was a challenge, but she said she was excited about the opportunities offered in the paper.
Karen Service, supervisor at Family Start in Buller Grey District, said the changes were long overdue, but should have been more ruthless.
"We've got to start somewhere and I think that's a good start."
Every Child Counts spokeswoman Deborah Morris-Travers supported the initiatives but said research showed a universal approach would achieve the best results. The Government also needed to address poverty and the wider determinants of child wellbeing, she said.
Labour's social development spokeswoman, Jacinda Ardern, said poverty was not an excuse for child abuse but was one of the biggest influences on a child's future. "This is an opportunity lost. The plan includes some common sense ideas . . . [but] lifting our children out of poverty is one of the best things we can do to improve their lives."
Concerns were also raised about how the Government could guarantee the security of information in the Vulnerable Kids Information System, known as Vicki, which will collate details about the most at-risk children from government agencies and "front-line" professionals.
Parents might not know their child was in it, accounts were unlikely to ever be deleted, and exact details were yet to be announced on who would have access to what information.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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